Wódz Inagawa Jibu-no-tayu Minamoto-no Yoshimoto

Where is the Samurai going?

This particular footman, dressed in a nimai gusoku armour fastened on his right side, and a kabuto helmet protecting his head, was portrayed in the photograph during the autumn parade called Jidai Matsuri (Parade of the Ages) in Kyoto.

Footman – dressed in nimai gusoku armour
Footman – dressed in nimai gusoku armour, Kyoto 2015, photo: Beata Romanowicz

Every year (since 1895) the Heian Jingu Shrine attracts a colourful procession of about 2,000 people dressed in historical costumes in order to celebrate another anniversary of over twelve centuries of history and tradition of the former capital of Japan. The participants in this festival – one of the most important in Kyoto – complete an approximately 5-kilometre route starting at the gardens of the Imperial Palace.

…meanwhile, in a remote location another 8500 km away, other samurais appear. In 2011, an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts devoted to the works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798- 1861) from the collection of the National Museum in Krakow, presented the silhouettes of great leaders portrayed in various types of armour.

Chief Inagawa Jibu-no-tayu Minamoto-no Yoshimoto sitting in full armour
Chief Inagawa Jibu-no-tayu Minamoto-no Yoshimoto sitting in full armour, from the series: Lives of the Heroes of Taiheiki – Chronicle of Great Peace; Japan, 1848-1849, property of the NMK

Feliks ‘Manggha’ Jasieński (1861-1929) was a collector with exceptional taste and connoisseurship of Japanese art, who collected and donated to the National Museum in Krakow a set of over 7,000 objects. Delighted with the sophistication of Japanese craftsmanship, he created parallel worlds in which he compared the Japanese to knights-artists. Following in the footsteps of Jasieński’s fascination, we organized an exhibition in the Szołayski House, which may be of interest to anyone who would like to take a closer look at a samurai armour – very similar to the one worn by the footman from the Kyoto parade. However, the one presented at the exhibition at the National Museum consists of an original cuirass dating back to the beginning of the 19th century, complemented by slightly older kote vambraces and sode spaulders from the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868). The ‘dressed’ warrior on display is presented in a sitting position, though the apron protecting his thighs and hips – the so-called haidate cuisses – is still visible. Another cover, which protected the body of the Samurai, consisted of sune-ate greaves. We can see them in two versions: one – placed next to the ‘dressed’ warrior – presents the protected body part. The other pair has been displayed in a way enabling the visitors to see its subtleties hidden from the sight of an outside observer (and during the battle – the enemy). The gilded background features a uniquely decorative painted motif – dragonflies in flight.

Sune-ate greave
Sune-ate greave, property of the NMK

It may seem a surprising motif and a strange place to locate it. However, what should be stressed here is that the valiant and brave samurai could have been in need of surrounding himself with beautiful objects (as a ‘knight-artist’!), and at the same time he referred to the symbolism which became the quintessence of a certain strategy. In this case, the dragonfly referred to the ability to move forward using sudden changes of direction – similar to the seemingly chaotic flight of the insect, which still reaches its target using sudden dodges, acceleration, and flight suspension.

In the second part of the exhibition titled ‘Long Live Art! Feliks Jasieński’s Collection. From Japan to Europe. Beautiful and Useful Objects’, in the fragment devoted to the Japanese section of Jasieński’s collection, the viewers can see numerous motifs which were subtly introduced in order to decorate the objects, including militaria.

Where is the Samurai going?…
Probably to the exhibition.


Beata Romanowicz

Beata Romanowicz – curator of the Department of Far Eastern Art of the NMK, curator of the Japanese section of the exhibition ‘Long Live Art! Feliks Jasieński’s Collection. From Japan to Europe. Beautiful and Useful Objects’

Pin It

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *